Friday, April 27, 2012

Ehrman Spin Kicks Carrier in the Jaw

It seems safe to say that the Ehrman-Carrier fight is over. Ehrman very effectively demolished Carrier's attempt to criticize his work. There are a number of interesting things that Ehrman has to say, but most of all this is the water in which Ehrman can safely swim. Carrier plays directly into Ehrman's strengths, and Ehrman takes full advantage of Carrier's weakness.

Key points that Ehrman addresses:

1) Was Pilate a procurator (as referred to in the NT) or a prefect (as referred to in Tacitus)? Answer: both titles referred to the same position - in Judea, that post was referred to as prefect at the time Pilate held it, but within the apostolic era began to be referred to as procurator.
2) Did Tacitus refer to Jesus? Answer: Yes. Even the relative minority of Scholarship that questions this either (a) suggests that the passage is an interpolation from another (now lost) work of Tacitus, or (b) thinks that Tacitus himself was making a mistake.
3) Was Osiris a dying and rising god? Answer: No. While in some Osiris myth Osiris comes back, he comes back from Hades. This is not a bodily resurrection.
4) Did Paul think that Jesus was a person who lived just before Paul's conversion? Yes, and all the relevant sources support that. Ehrman has an amusing paragraph on this point:
Maybe I could have made this a bit more clear by saying that the view I was referring to could be found in “all our sources from Paul’s time and in the decades that followed, not sources written 300 years later that have no bearing on Paul’s thinking.” But frankly, I didn’t think it was necessary since I went on to enumerate the sources that I was referring to. What I meant, of course, was that all of the relevant sources have this view.
I should add that Paul's reference at Galatians 1:19 to "James, the Lord's brother," as being someone he met, strongly suggests that Paul thought Jesus was a contemporary (as Albert McIlhenny recently pointed out).
5) Did the Romans keep scrupulous records of everything, such as births and deaths, in Judea? Answer: No. While there are some detailed records of this kind from Egypt, they were made by the indigenous population.

There was one embarrassing point for Ehrman. He remarks:
Carrier finds fault with my claim, about Earl Doherty, that he “quotes professional scholars at length when their view prove useful for developing aspects of his argument, but he fails to point out that not a single one of these scholars agrees with his overarching thesis” (p. 252). He points out that Doherty does in fact indicate, in various places throughout his book, that the argument he is advancing at that point is not accepted by other scholars. As a result, Carrier states, my claim is nothing but “falsified propaganda.”
I am afraid that in this case Carrier misses my point. It is true that Doherty acknowledges that scholars disagree with him on this, that, or the other thing. But the way he builds his arguments typically makes it appear that he is writing as a scholar among scholars, and that all of these scholars (with him in the mix) have disagreements on various issues (disagreements with him, with one another). One is left with the impression that like these other scholars, Doherty is building a tenable case that some points of which would be granted by some scholars but not others, and that the entire overall thesis, therefore, would also be acceptable to at least some of the scholars he engages with.
But this is a criticism that could similarly be leveled at Ehrman's own works, especially "Misquoting Jesus." Now, granted, it's probably not the case that Ehrman's work falls prey to this: "The reality, however, is that every single scholar of early Christianity that Doherty appeals to fundamentally disagrees with his major thesis (Jesus did not exist)." So, he's not fully in the same boat with Doherty, and it is only fair to point that out. He didn't quote exclusively from scholars who reject his major thesis.

I say that the Ehrman-Carrier fight is over. I stand by that. That doesn't mean that Carrier or his crew know that. As Ehrman predicts, they may continue to launch web based attacks. Truly, though, the battle is over. The knock-out kick has been delivered, and any ref would be pulling Ehrman off of Carrier in mercy.


Thursday, April 26, 2012

Rhology Islamic Dialog / Debate

My friend Rhology engaged in a three part dialog with an imam, which is recorded. Interestingly, the imam suggested that Islam does not permit "debate," as such (mentioned near the beginning of the first part). I thought Rhology did a good job of highlighting some of the important issues. It was relatively low key and calm.

Part 1/3 -
Part 2/3 - (if you have a Mac: )
Part 3/3 -


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Response to Bryan Cross on Penal Substitution

Bryan Cross has provided a significant number of posts in a comment box at the GreenBaggins blog, suggesting that somehow the doctrine of penal substitution is inconsistent with orthodox Trinitarian theology and/or orthodox Christology.

Bryan's argument was provided a variety of different ways with many different tangents, but Bryan's premises can be reduced to this:

1. Penal substitution requires Christ being punished by God.
2. Punishment requires a loss of communion between God and Jesus.
3. A loss of communion between God and Jesus means either that Jesus is two persons (one person who is God and one person who is man), that Jesus is not God, or that there are more gods than one. (Respectively, those positions would be identified as Nestorianism, Arianism, or Polytheism.)

Penal substitution requires Christ being punished by God.

We don't object to Bryan's first premise. Isaiah 53 teaches this. That chapter states:

Isaiah 53:3-12
He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken. And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
Christ was treated as though he was a sinner ("numbered with the transgressors") and specifically received this treatment from God ("it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief") and particularly as a result of attributing our sins to him ("the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all").

So, we agree with Bryan's first premise, namely that penal substitution requires Christ being punished by God. Moreover, we affirm that Scripture teaches this, something that Bryan (in this argument) does not dispute. One supposes that Bryan would dispute this point, but at least in the context of this argument he has not presented any exegetical reasons for doing so.

Instead, Bryan has attempted to argue that the conclusion conflicts with orthodox Christology and/or orthodox Trinitarian theology.  He argues this by first asserting:

Punishment requires a loss of communion between God and Jesus?

Bryan's second premise is ambiguous.  The term "loss of communion" can refer to a variety of different things.  Bryan was asked a number of times to clarify what he meant by "communion" a number of times, but he declined to provide any clarification.  We could reject Bryan's second premise on this ground alone.  We don't need to accept premises that have undefined and ambiguous terms, particularly because such terms can lead to equivocation when it comes time to draw conclusions from them.

Nevertheless, we can answer this premise by distinguishing.

Punishment of Jesus by God does not require a loss of communion in the sense of God and Jesus being actually at odds.  Jesus underwent the punishment of humiliation, including suffering and death, willingly.  It is written: "Saying, 'Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.'" (Luke 22:42) And again: "Who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the people's: for this he did once, when he offered up himself." (Hebrews 7:27)  Had Christ been an unwilling victim, we might have said that the will of Christ and the will of God were at odds, but Christ submitted himself according to his human will to the will of God.

Thus, at a minimum, this premise is not true in every sense of the term "communion."

Bryan argued that punishment involves loss of communion in some sense, and that it is this loss of communion that primarily distinguishes punishment from discipline.  Bryan is wrong.  The primary distinction between punishment and discipline is the intent of the one inflicting the punishment or discipline.

In the case of punishment, the primary intent is to restore justice.  In the case of discipline, the primary intent is to improve the disciplined person.  It is worth noting that substitutionary punishment makes sense, while substitionary discipline largely does not.  One is reminded of the prince's "whipping boy" in The Prince and the Pauper.  While justice may be served by a man being flogged for a crime committed that merits flogging, in general the ill-behaving does not learn his lesson by another being flogged.

It is true that in the usual case, without substitution, there is typically an accompanying attitude of fundamental displeasure with the person being punished and an accompanying attitude of fundamental pleasure with the person being disciplined.  Thus, a father beats a son whom he loves, although of course the father does not love the son's behavior that led to the need for the beating.  If you are a modernist who thinks that beating children is immoral, read the Bible - but for the sake of this illustration just substitute "time out" for beating.

Hebrews 12:5-11
And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: for whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.
Moreover, one can take the case of restitution as an example of retributive justice.  Justice can be served by the victim of theft receiving treble restitution for his losses, but that justice is served regardless of the source of the funds.  If those funds come from the criminal, they may have a disciplinary effect on the criminal, but even if they come from a substitute, they still make the injured person whole again.

Nevertheless, there is a sense in which communion, in the sense of felt favor of God, may have been lost.  While we need not be dogmatic about it, it is possible for Christ, on the cross, to have lost a sense or awareness of the presence and favor of God.  Christ was unaware, according to his humanity, of the day and the hour of the second coming.  Likewise, it was possible for him to be unaware, according to his humanity, of the pleasure and favor of God toward him for a time on the cross.

Such an absence of awareness of God's presence and favor is one of the penalties that produce suffering for those in hell.  Christ could undergo that same punishment in terms of suffering without actually losing God's presence or favor.   Therefore, if this falls within the ambit of "communion" in the sense that Bryan means, Christ may have undergone it on the cross.

Loss of Communion with God Implies Some Heresy or Other?

Bryan's third premise depends heavily on the sense in which he means "communion," a sense he's seemingly unwilling to disclose.  If Bryan is suggesting that punishment requires God the Father to stop loving the Son in every sense, then we simply disagree with Bryan's assertion.  Suggesting that God the Father stopped loving the Son in every sense is clearly wrong.

Likewise, it is wrong to state that the Trinity was somehow severed by the cross.  The intra-trinitarian communion was not damaged by the cross.  Indeed, Christ was unified in will with the Father and the Spirit in the purpose of the crucifixion.  If Christ and the Father were actually at odds, this would imply a serious error.

Furthermore, it is wrong to state that one person (Christ the God) was actually at odds with another person (Christ the Man).  Christ is one person in two distinct natures.  That means that Christ has two wills, but as one person Christ is unable to "commune" with himself, much less "lose" or "break" communion with himself.

On the other hand, Christ merely ceasing to be aware of God's presence or favor for a time on the cross according to his humanity does not imply any sort of heresy.  So, much hinges on what Bryan means by "communion."  Therefore, we cannot grant his third premise outright, just as we cannot grant his second premise outright.  Instead, we need to distinguish in each case.

- TurretinFan

Update: In the comment box, Bryan Cross denies that he holds to the second premise.  I've provided some documentation that seems to suggest he once advocated that premise.  Nevertheless, he recently continued the argument in the comment box by alleging that the essence of hell punishment in particular is loss of communion with God.   Even with this modification, the response above largely maintains.  A few parts may not be relevant, but the rest is.

Why Men Shouldn't Be Ordained?

I understand the purpose of the top-ten list at this link, identifying supposed reasons that no men should be ordained.  That is, the purpose is to take some of the arguments against women's ordination and try to turn them on their head.  Ultimately, the list ends up refocusing us on the real issue why men are to be ordained and women are not: Scripture teaches it.

So, while I doubt the post at "Christian Feminism" (think "Hindu Cannibalism" or "Muslim Alcoholism") was intended for the purpose of recentering the debate on women's ordination, it does serve that purpose.

While a lot of the mocked statements may be real reasons why it is imprudent for women to serve as elders, they are not ultimately the real reason: the real reason is that God has decided.